OHIO– The Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick has been in existence, off and on, since 1966. But the collection, which was once featured in publications from the New York Times to the Scholastic Voice, hasn’t been publicly displayed since Jimmy Carter was president. Now two longtime friends of Raymond Buckland – the man who brought Gardnerian witchcraft to the United States – are trying once again to make an ever-growing collection of Pagan artifacts available to the public.The museum’s heyday was its first ten years from 1966-1976. During that time, Buckland himself housed it on Long Island where he lived. When he moved to New Hampshire, he tried to keep it up. However, by 1980, he decided to put the collection in storage. He was much in demand as a lecturer and writer, and found himself unable to devote the necessary time to the project.
The collection remained in storage for close to 20 years. Then, Buckland made arrangements to pass it on to Monte Plaisance, whose intention was to reopen the museum in New Orleans. That, unfortunately, never came to pass. As The Wild Hunt reported in 2008, attorneys were retained to negotiate the return of the artifacts to Buckland. Since that point, there have been allegations that the collection was not returned complete from its journey to New Orleans.
We contacted Michael (Monte) Plaisance about the accusations. He said, in part, “When I returned the museum [collection], all of those items were accounted for and those documents were signed off by the mediating attorney, who took the collection and brought it to whoever was the next person to handle it. […] I wish the current curator/owner of the collection the best of luck with the task ahead.” Read his full response to the allegations here.
Rev. Velvet Rieth was the next person to try to take on the project. However, Rieth became ill, so Buckland sought other curators, which he found in Toni Rotonda and Kat Tigner. Buckland has said, “These two ladies have taken on a formidable task but are doing wonderfully well with it. I have absolute trust in them and am extremely grateful to them for taking this on.” Rotonda and Tigner spoke to us about their plans for the collection.
The Wild Hunt: How did the two of you come to own this collection in the first place?
Toni and Kat: The two of us, Kat and Toni, have been friends with Raymond Buckland for quite some time. Over the course of several years, we have had a number of conversations about the museum collection. Last year (2015), we were made aware that Reverend Velvet Rieth, the then-curator of the museum, had become ill and was unable to continue managing the museum. After much discussion and consideration, all parties thought it would be the best option to bring the collection back to Ohio for safekeeping. This has proven to be a monumental task, as the collection is extremely extensive.
TWH: What kind of background in Paganism do you have?
Kat: I have studied witchcraft and the occult since 1970. I was a solitary practitioner for over 30 years until I felt a strong need to connect with other Pagans. I started a Pagan website back in the late 1990s (there were very few back then) and began selling my own ritual candles and oils. In 1999, I decided to quit my lucrative government job to open a small “witch shop” called The Cat & The Cauldron in Columbus, Ohio. A risky endeavor, to say the least, but you’ve heard the old adage “build it and they will come.” Well, they came and business grew. I learned from Llewelyn publishers that Ray Buckland lived in Ohio, so I decided to contact him and invite him for a book signing and lecture at my shop. Ray initiated me into the Craft (his first initiate in 20 years), then became my mentor and close friend, which we’ve been ever since. We co-founded a coven together in 2005 called the Temple of Sacrifice which follows an Egyptian pantheon, but I still recognize and worship the gods and goddesses of many cultures today.
Toni: I grew up in an extremely diverse family in many ways. My great-grandmother was a Vodou practitioner. My maternal grandmother was an in-the-closet Hungarian gypsy. My paternal grandmother had holy water basins attached to several walls of her home (which I loved) and would walk around mumbling prayers with her rosary in hand. And my nanny, well, let’s just say tea leaves and tarot before breakfast was standard fare. I had a very colorful childhood, and for that I am very thankful. I’ve always been fascinated by the various beliefs of different populations, and still am. I have studied various religions and paths over the years, when finally, in 1999, I wandered into a little shop called The Cat & The Cauldron.
TWH: Do you have any experience with starting and running a museum?
Kat and Toni: No, but we certainly have some great guidance from Ray who started the original museum in 1968! We have been involved with and have had guidance from several other museum curators as well as historical societies. Ashley Mortimer, from the Doreen Valiente Foundation, has been instrumental in helping us with laying the groundwork. It has been comforting to work with a group that understands the importance of protecting the integrity of such a collection. We hope to work with them more in the future.
There is definitely a lot to learn but it has been an exciting and worthwhile project. We have each owned and currently own our own businesses and have a wealth of knowledge and guidance from many that are anxious to see this project up and running.TWH: What can you tell me about the Buckland collection itself that you own?
Kat and Toni: It is as diverse of a collection as one could imagine. When we originally received the collection from New Orleans in July of 2015, the items were not carefully packed or labeled in any way. There were large foot lockers filled with what could only be described as chaos. We had no idea who (and in some cases, what) these items belonged to, or their relevance to the museum. Many of the items were in pieces (in separate foot lockers), broken, or missing. It was very disheartening. Thankfully, because of Ray’s extensive record-keeping (thank the gods!), we were able to identify, catalog, and restore many of the artifacts.
Ray began this collection in the 1960s. Having worked for British Airways, it allowed him the ability to travel around the world to collect various ritual artifacts. Ancient Egyptian, African, Meso-American, and Australian Aboriginal ceremonial artifacts are among the many items in the collection. As we all know, Ray has been a beacon for many on the Pagan path. Because of this, Ray has met many others that have also been instrumental on the Pagan front. Individuals such Gerald Gardner, Monique Wilson, Sybil Leek, Aiden Breac, Israel Regardie, Patricia Crowther, Scott Cunningham, and Eleanor Bone just to name a few. These individuals as well as many others have donated some amazing personal artifacts to the museum.
TWH: Have there been any recent donations?
Kat and Toni: For the past six months, we have been communicating with a number of Pagan elders and teachers. It was absolutely no surprise to us that a number of these individuals that we’ve spoken to were close friends with Ray, some as far back as the 1960s. It’s been amazing to discover that long before the internet, these pioneers all knew each other even though they were spread all over the globe. They have all been extremely helpful and more than willing to donate something to the collection. Some recollect having seen the collection in the 1970s, and many have wonderful stories of the early days!Recently we made a trip down to Atlanta, Georgia to meet with Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone. They had just released their latest book, Lifting the Veil, and were doing a workshop at the Phoenix and Dragon bookstore. After the workshop, Janet and Gavin presented the museum collection with a beautiful wooden chalice. This chalice had been used by Stewart, Janet, Gavin, and their coven for many years.
They told us a personal story behind the chalice that most have never heard of until now. When Stewart passed away and after the funeral services, he was cremated. His ashes were placed in many of his favorite places. However, some of them were set aside. Their coven went to one of Stewart’s favorite places, cast a circle and held a funerary ritual. Stewart’s ashes were placed in the chalice and filled with a good Irish whiskey. The chalice was then passed around the circle and everyone got a drink of Stewart! We were very pleased and honored to have received such a personal gift to the collection
The hospitality that we had received from everyone in Atlanta was overwhelming, and we’ll never forget the time that we spent with Janet and Gavin (haven’t laughed that much in a long time).
Since we have started reaching out to the community, we have received some wonderful donations. Among them are Christopher Penczak’s original athame, handmade spell cords from Laurie and Penny Cabot, a chalice from Sam Webster and his coven the Crescent Hellions, a gorgeous headdress that belonged to Morning Glory from Oberon Zell, and Ray has recently included his original manuscript of Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft. [Ed: We have previously covered Oberon Zell’s similar effort to start a Pagan museum.]
There are also a number [of people] that we have spoken to that are trying to decide what best represents themselves and their path. This is an important decision. We have had extensive conversations with Phaedra Bonewits about what she would like to donate. She says that she has an idea, but is still pondering on what would best represent Isaac.
We cannot stress enough how important this process is for the museum collection. Expansion of the museum collection from donations is imperative to the preservation of our history. Without them, the history would be lost.TWH: What’s your vision for what the museum will look like once it’s open?
Kat and Toni: We actually have Ray’s original blueprints for a larger museum project that he had planned, and it would be wonderful to stay as close to his vision as possible. The exhibits will walk the viewer through the history of witchcraft and magick, to the present day practices and blending of traditions.
TWH: When do you hope you can open the doors?
Kat and Toni: We have not decided on an exact date as of yet. We are still in the process of restoring some of the items and building permanent display cases. We do have an idea of a location here in Ohio, but we are still working on the details.
TWH: How is the museum to be legally structured? Do you own the objects personally, or is there some kind of board or other organization officially in charge? Are the donations tax-deductible at this time?
Kat and Toni: Currently we own the museum and are legally registered with the State. However, our long term goal (much like the Valiente collection) is to establish a foundation. We feel that it is extremely important to protect and grow the assets, and establishing a foundation with a board of trustees will keep the museum intact for future generations.
Unfortunately, no, donations are not tax-deductible at this time. This, as well as a non-profit status are in the works for the future.
TWH: Please provide all the ways that people can support this project, including financially and non-financially, such as item donations.
Kat and Toni: We have just recently started a [crowdfunding campaign] to help with costs. The costs of restoration, utilities, rent, insurance, application fees, [and] display cases can be overwhelming, so anything donated to the fund is greatly appreciated. There is also a donation page on the Buckland Museum website. We have had some wonderful feedback and contributions from friends, family and fellow Pagans who would like to see this history preserved. People can help in many ways by making a small donation, a large donation, or even just forwarding the information to their family and friends!
We would also like if people could share any memories or stories that they may have of the museum over the years. Along with this, we love hearing stories, tales, and anecdotes of the people that have been instrumental in this cause.
TWH: Do you have any criteria that you could share about item donations, or is it really on a case-by-case basis?
Kat and Toni: We would still like to continue to have as diverse of a collection as possible. Certainly anything that pertains to Pagan religions and traditions. We would also like to try to continue to display items from prominent Pagan leaders who have been instrumental in making Paganism what it is today.
TWH: Who would you like to see attending the grand opening?
Well of course we would hope that Ray Buckland will be there to cut the ribbon!